Tennis Pro Dick Stockton Recalls His French Open Experiences – Town-Crier Newspaper

Tennis Pro Dick Stockton Recalls His French Open Experiences – Town-Crier Newspaper

Dick Stockton (right) with the legendary Arthur Ashe and Jackie Onassis in 1977.

As tennis fans look forward to the playing of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris, which starts Monday, May 20, you might be surprised to learn that a Wellington resident actually played in the French Open on four occasions.

Dick Stockton had a long and successful career in the 1970s and early 1980s on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Tour.

Of the four Grand Slam tournaments (the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open), Stockton had memorable experiences in three of them: the French Open in Paris, Wimbledon in London and the U.S. Open in New York City.

His memories of his four visits to Paris to play in the French Open are strong and vivid, though it has been 40 years since his last visit to Stade Roland Garros, the site of the French Open.

When Stockton arrived in Paris, he was all business and was totally focused on serving aces, executing crisp volleys and hitting winners with his backhand and forehand.

“When at a tournament like the French Open, there isn’t much time for sightseeing,” said Stockton, now 73. “I saw the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame while driving through Paris, but never had a chance to really visit any of them. But, as I recall, during my first experience at the French Open in 1973, I went with a friend to visit the Louvre, but it was closed.”

Stockton would only stay in Paris for as long as he remained alive in the men’s singles, men’s doubles or mixed doubles competitions.

“As great a city as Paris is, one didn’t hang around after being eliminated because it was always a quick transition to the grass courts in England and the Wimbledon tournament, so it was paramount to get there as quickly as possible in order to prepare for the grass-court season,” Stockton explained.

Stockton’s best performances in the French Open took place in 1978, 1979 and 1984.

“In 1978, I played the defending champion, Guillermo Vilas, one of the best clay court players of that era, in the semifinal. He beat me in three straight sets. It wasn’t very close,” Stockton recalled. “Also in 1978, I reached the quarterfinals of the men’s doubles with Erik van Dillen. In 1979, I reached the semifinals of the men’s doubles with Arthur Ashe. And I won the mixed doubles at the French Open with Anne Smith in 1984.”

Over the years, many American men’s tennis pros have struggled to succeed at the French Open because of the difficulty of adapting to the European red-clay tennis courts used there.

“I didn’t mind European red clay,” Stockton said. “After all, I did reach the semifinals of the singles once, the semifinals of the doubles once and won the mixed doubles once. I was always more concerned with Wimbledon and preferred spending more time preparing on grass. In those days, it was difficult to spend upward of eight weeks in Europe. Not only was it a long time over there, but, because it was so expensive, it could be difficult to make ends meet. For example, when my partner [Anne Smith] and I won the French Open mixed doubles in 1984, I stayed around Paris for 10 days after being eliminated from the men’s doubles, and we each received $900 for winning. That isn’t a typo!”

When Stockton would visit Paris to play in the French Open, he never stayed in the same place twice.

“There were several different ‘official hotels’ each year, and I usually stayed wherever most of my friends were staying,” Stockton recalled.

While Stockton won’t be in Paris this year, he will be following the action. His choices to win the women’s and men’s singles are Iga Świątek and Jannik Sinner, respectively.

In his career on the ATP Tour, Stockton won 13 doubles titles and eight singles titles. His highest world ranking in singles was eighth, and his best world ranking in doubles was 13th.

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